Searching for the hidden gateway to Atlantic

The Radio 4 forecast at 5.20am confirmed what we knew already, we were going to paddle that day. We allowed ourselves the luxury of another 1.5 hour of sleep and then, finally got going. 

The paddle around the lighthouse and further past Rhuba Heallacro was again a spectacular display of what nature could create, however we were more interested in what was to come next. In the past the locals built a causeway between South Uist and Benbecula to ease their travels between the islands. Great but could we go through? Not much information on the chart apart from that is an area with very shallow water. We timed to be there at high water. We could see cars driving across the sound, how could we get the kayaks across? 

And then we saw it, a little bridge, yes we can! What’s more, there was a co-op as well. Finally, as we finished the first bottle of whisky of this trip that same morning. 

After a short break the sound had filled with water. Now we had to find the break between the Gualan sand bar and the island. It wasn’t easy, the land, the dunes and the rocky outcrops, all looked like one. Sometimes the water was just few inches deep and we worried of beaching it. 

Suddenly the tide started to run against us, there must be a break. And then we saw it, the chanel through. So we paddled into the North Atlantic. 


Bothy Rat wasn’t home

After arriving to Uisinish Bay we made ourselves home in the bothy there. For those, who wonder what bothy is, it is an old house, which ceased to be used as somebody’s permanent home. This bothy like many others is maintained by MBA, who is doing great job at preserving old buildings, which would go derelict otherwise. Some bothys are better some are worst, this one was great, clean and tidy with stove and sleeping area. image

It also had a mouse trap and many warnings about a rat. Fortunately we were lucky and either the rat wasn’t at home or was extinguhed by the many traps that were previously set. Almost every entry in the bothy book had something to say about the rat but ours. And so we spent here happy three days and four nights waiting for good weather. For company we had the rain and wind, some deers, an owl, a seal, random books and Radio 4. 

       In one of the books there, we found the author, Gordon Stanson, visiting this place back in 1928. Apparently it was one of the last places, where people lived on this east side of South Uist. It was cute little house by the sea with a serious mountain scenery behid surouded by wildlife. Yet, as soon as the weather improved we were eager to move on and leave the boggy land surrounding it to the deers and walkers. 

Was it an open crossing? 

Canna promised  to be an interesting island with rugged coastline, beaches and the adjoining island Sanday with its church, school and most of the community there. However, we had the weather window before the gales would come and were eager to make a move.
Dinner at Canna Cafe was accompanied by charts and Almanac. The tides were defined, weather checked and the bearing taken, 320 degrees.    DSCF9155

At 6.30am we got up, at 9am we launched with estimated 10 hours ahead of us. I have asked that question to Michal as I honestly wasn’t sure. We could see where we wanted to go in the distance, the highest peak, the Hecla on South Uist. To the left of us we had nothing but open sea, yet from previous days we knew that the isle of Coll and the Heiskeir lighthouse are there. To the right we had the isle of Skye running along us for most of the way uncovering more and more of its headlands.

Was it boring? Not really. Such long paddles across vast amounts of water require the right mind setting. What’s important to know from the start is, that if it is estimated 10 hours, it won’t become less, rather more. Along the way, there’s always something happening. At the start the sea was quite rough, so not much time to think about other stuff than staying afloat. Then the headwind started, so most energy was invested into right paddling, stroke after stroke, because if the body gets hurt at the beginning of the distance, it’s either a turn back or agony till the end. When the conditions were against us, it was hard to stop, as it meant loosing gained, yet snack were welcomed distraction from the stroke after stroke after stroke routine. 

 The perception of the time and distance gets very distort. Very often after a slow moving the routine one suddenly realises that ten miles were gone or that one has paddled for three hours rather than just two. Also it is no point deciding to postpone a break till 4pm, if one wants it at 3.30pm, that doesn’t help and the time starts to crawl and the paddling becomes a chore. Better take it there and then. We didn’t take long stops on this crossing, 5 minutes maximum. The only ones that were longer and  caused some entertainment were pee stops. While Michal’s were usually straightforward, mine were always a betting game.

There’s no point in counting hours, it doesn’t make it any faster, it was much better to look around. Every new thing to see provided a great stimulus, a boat in a distance crossing our path in a faraway shipping channel, different birds rocking on waves flying away or diving in as we approached. For a while the gannets were circling, flying quite low above our heads.  A dolphin decided to look closer at us and shown us his tail fin. The water changed colours. Later the wind dropped and the sea calmed, the reflection of my fellow paddler became a great movie, too. 

    The last two hours were the most challenging, the land was now all around us, yet still quite far. Here our patience had to be the greatest. We got so far, we would get to the shore as well. Some buoys started to appear in the distance between us and the land, so I engaged in a game of sprinting from one to the next one, as I needed to see something being left behind what wasn’t Canna.

Finally we were there or here in Uisinish Bay at South Uist, 10,5 hours after departure. Unfortunately the hard work hasn’t finished yet, the boats need to be landed, and the body needed to get accustomed to different movement.

In the shade of Rum

Exploring on the land was cool but it was great to be back on the water again.  We liked Eigg, the lanscape’s very versitile with vulcanic rocks, rolling hills, ridges, forests and so on. 

Rum in comparison seemed to be a bit boring, lots of steep moutains and no vegetation at all. Fortunately it changed soon and the highlight of the day today became the colours and the various patterns and shapes along the coast of Rum.    


Today was significant in other aspect, we have seen some wildlife. Seals, one glimps of dolphin, deers running on the hills and birds. We could recapitulate on our knowledge of them: shags, oystercathcers, guillemots, fulmars, and of course, puffins.   

 We left Eigg in direction of Canna.   

If wind bound then in sunny weather at a nice place

It’s Thursday today, day four of our trip, and the time to summarise what has happened so far. Last Sunday evening we boarded the sleeper bus at Victoria Coach station bound for Glasgow. The journey was eventless and even with coffee at the wrong train station we managed to get the right train on time. Few hours in, we suddenly had lots of people climbing all over us taking pictures of a bridge. Apparently very famous and one from Harry Potter, too.  After a short spell of hitchhiking and soon we were reunited with our boats at Glenuig Inn.  

 Then the hardest part started, the packing, fortunately we have sent our stuff up mostly ready in dry bags, so really we just engaged in the art of fitting it all in the boats. Three hours later we were done. We left the next day, on Tuesday being waved off by Julie, Paul and Roger from Devon, the people who kindly drove our boats here.  

Our first paddling aimed for Eigg, we arrived here in wind and rain. And because neither of us sees the point of being in a tent in the wet when accommodation is affordable and available, we checked ourselves into a hostel. Later we discovered that we would be windbound for few days. Ok,  we could have paddled but would not really get anywhere significant, especially for this trip.  

So we decided that being wind bound while it is sunny is the best. A local dog made our acquaintance and engaged us in a game of throw and catch. The next day we climbed the An Sgurr. Looking around from the top made us realise that we aren’t at the end of the world as being on an island seems but right in the middle of the universe. We could see Treshnish islands, Coll, Ardnamurchan Point, Skye, Outer Hebrides, everything a kayaker would wish to visit.  


Here we go, The Northern Four adventure has started!

So here we go again. The time has come and we’re ready to head off for our next adventure. Not so long this time and not so complex but a journey nevertheless. Ok, we have been paddling all the time since coming back from “doing Britain” but the longest time we managed to go for was three weeks and we had a car with us.

This time it’s different, we’re leaving for eight weeks paddling. The plan is fairly simple. We’ll leave the mainland at Glenuig, Sound of Arisaig, and paddle west, west until we reach the most westerly island we can reach before going north. Of course it’s weather dependent, and yes, unlike “Britain”, we don’t know yet where the finishing line is.

One would say that since we’re going for eight weeks or two months only, it should have been fairly simple in preparation. It was to some extent. Since we always knew we wanted to do a long term paddle again, we have been saving for it for a while. When the right time came, we had to commit to the idea that if we can’t secure time off work, we may have to leave and face all the consequences later. Luckily again, both our bosses were agreeable that time off would be beneficial to all. Paying rent takes a big chunk of one’s monthly budged, paying rent in London and not living in the flat could mean most savings going towards the rent, and so again we moved the computer desk into our bedroom and rented out the spare room. The new flatmate seems fine, has been living with us since the end of February.

With the life sorted, it was time to look into how to get the whole trip organised. Rough planning was done and we have several charts and information on desired locations printed, however the actual navigation will be done the day before as usual. Not having a car and using a borrowed one every time we went paddling made the logistics of how to get two boats we want to far away Scotland the most important part of the planning. Fortunately Tiderace decided to held a convention up in Glenuig at the beginning of May, which pretty much has set the date and place of our start line. The only thing we had to do, was to drop our boats to Devon for them to be taken to Scotland.11150670_1048825615149479_2916050051231288972_n

The packing was easy this time, really took just half a day of one day. I have to admit that being on multi month unsupported trip before helped in knowing what we need, like or want. Again, not taking it all ourselves, meant filling up Julie’s spare bedroom with 8 Ikea bags and one box. 

 The last thing left now, is to pack the remaining of the stuff like perishable food, cameras, and land clothes, then board the night bus to Glasgow. Scotland, here we come.

Northern Four

Logo NORTHERN FOUREver since we came back from our homeSEAhome trip people around kept asking “what’s next?” While it was great to be somewhere on a journey, in reality, everyday live is there with hundreds of other things that take priority for while. Yet, the temptation is always present. There and now we were talking about a new trip, about islands closer or more distant.

While talking about our possibilities, there was one memory popping back to my mind. Memory of the special moment, when we stud by Cape Wrath lighthouse on an absolutely calm and clear day. A moment when on the horizon  we were just able to make  out the Butt of Lewis, North Rona, Sule Skerry and Orkney, all at the same time. I remember thinking that one day I wanted to paddle there. Once we add Natalie’s love to go to places one can see barely or not at all, the idea of the next trip was born.

Plan for the Northern Four is quite simple. We will start on the west coast of Scotland at the beginning of May and paddle to four different islands: St. Kilda, Flannan Isles, North Rona and Sule Skerry. The most difficult part of the trip is done, decision has been made and the date was set. What’s left now, is just an endless list of smaller and bigger tasks to do.